In a world overflowing with “me-too” goods and services, consumers are seeking ways to assert their individuality. In an overcrowded marketplace teaming with repetition and homogeneity, they crave personalised products and experiences that reflect their individual identities.
This phenomenon of personal expression is catalysed by the rise of social technologies and networks such as blogs, forums, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and other community channels.
In other words, I’m no longer just a nameless, faceless and clueless consumer.
What does this mean for companies and their relationships with their consumers?
First, the traditional value of brands as corporate or commercial icons no longer exist. Consumers aren’t as enamoured by your brand promise as they are with how your product or service helps to fit into THEIR brand story. In other words, you’ve got to see how you can play a part in writing at least some of the chapters in their book of life.
Second, custom made products and services take on greater and greater prominence, especially when one’s customers are involved in the process. The more “work” your customers put into developing and shaping a product, service or experience, the greater their sense of individual ownership, affection, and love.
Third, market research in the traditional sense of surveys, focus groups and “heat maps” alone may no longer be sufficient. What’s needed instead is to dive deep into the world of your customers. Live a week in their shoes by actually walking the talk. Better yet if you can literally stay with them to observe what they do.
Fourth, you need to involve your most ardent believers in the conceptualisation, development and distribution of your product or service. Identify who your most important advocates are and invite them to your research laboratory or factory floor. Actively seek their inputs as early as possible. Let them dabble their hand in creating what they perceive as the ideal product for their use.
Finally, and perhaps most significantly, embrace your customers in your integrated marketing strategies. This could be as fundamental as product packaging and brand identity all the way to generating word-of-mouth amongst their peers.
Hopefully, at this stage, you would have already gained so much of their involvement, engagement and trust that what’s yours truly become theirs.
Of course, there are companies that do not involve their customers at virtually any stage of the process yet do amazingly well. A prime example is Apple. However, I doubt that many of us have as keen an insight into human oriented design and consumer preferences as Steve Jobs did.
Catering to a world where everybody is potentially a “market of one” means that it may be better to remodel your business processes to involve your customers – from research, manufacturing, distribution to marketing.
Do you agree with this idea? Is it realistic for companies to build their brands entirely around their customers?